Kids Read: Mooncakes, Zigzags, Extra Credit

A local librarian reviews children's books.

Children reap great rewards when parents encourage at least 20 minutes of reading a day. Reading aloud with your children is a terrific way to spend quality family time. Books also can give us some time alone in our own space – and while we use that space to think about the story, we also reflect on ourselves and the world around us. Books spark creativity, innovation and imagination – let’s lead our kids there!   

Today’s top picks:

Round Is a Mooncake: a Book of Shapes, by Roseanne Thong, published by Chronicle Books LLC – for ages 2-6    

“Round Is a Mooncake” is a delightful picture book that teaches the math concept of shapes and the visual and intellectual skills to recognize shapes everywhere.  Preschoolers will love to listen to the lyrical, narrative rhyme, so important in early literacy skills. Early elementary students find the rhyming scheme helpful in decoding words and committing them to memory, all of which assists them in learning to read. A glossary of some of the shapes found in the book is a great addition for older readers.   

“Round is a mooncake. Round is the moon. Round are the lanterns outside my room.” Holding a mooncake in hand, mother and daughter gaze at the bright, full moon, admiring the many paper lanterns illuminating the street scene outside. The illustrations in vivid colors pay close attention to the text and zero in on the most important details, adding visual variety and intimate focus on the people and objects artist Grace Lin renders.

“Round are cups of jasmine tea. At a table beneath a tree. What other round things do you see?” Several times throughout the book, the author invites readers to ask themselves what they see. This is a marvelous tool to get kids focused on the page, looking for clues, and at the same time, thinking about everyday objects with which they are familiar. Colorful little Chinese objects and pastries are popular images with small children, regardless of their ancestry, and this book does a great job of blending Asian life with American flair.  

Last, but not least, “Round Is a Mooncake” makes a good bedtime selection.  It not only begins and ends with the moon; the last page makes a cozy scene. Mother and daughter are reading together in bed, surrounded by stuffed animals, with a gentle breeze blowing the curtains at the window. It’s sure to have your child contentedly dreaming of colors and shapes!

Find “Round Is a Mooncake: a Book of Shapes” at your local library:


Number One Kid (Zigzag Kids series, vol. 1), by Patricia Reilly Giff, Wendy Lamb Books, (Random House Children’s Books) - for ages 6-8

The chapter book “Number One Kid” addresses one of kids’ biggest fears: measuring up to their peers.  Mitchell McCabe is a little unsure of himself and how he fits in at the Zelda A. Zigzag elementary school.  Mitchell and his sister, Angel, recently moved to the area, and now Mitchell thinks he is no good at anything.  On top of that, his teacher, Ms. Katz, announces a contest that will award prizes to students to recognize their talents.  Mitchell attends the “Afternoon Center,” the afterschool program that takes the kids on field trips, helps them with homework and provides them with all kinds of fun activities. This creates a problem for Mitchell because he constantly sees the talents of the other children and compares himself to them.

Eleven children and a friendly-looking striped tabby cat named Terrible Thomas round out the cast of characters in Zigzag Kids. Fun black and white illustrations are sprinkled throughout the text. Mitchell and his friends have a good time as they visit a nature center, go swimming and search for a lost mask. As for the contest, Mitchell and all his friends receive recognition for what they know how to do well, giving Mitchell the boost of confidence he needs.   

Patricia Reilly Giff is the author of many books for children, such as the Newbery Honor books “Lily’s Crossing” and “Pictures of Hollis Woods.” She has written other winners, too, which are ALA Notable Books and Best Books for Young Adults.  “Zigzag Kids” is her latest early-reader series.  She has written other such series, including the Kids of the Polk Street School books, the Polka Dot Private Eye books, and the Friends and Amigos books. 

Find “Number One Kid" at your local library:


Extra Credit, by Andrew Clements, published by Atheneum – for ages 8-12

Clements has a knack for giving his novels depth while keeping the plot and readability appropriate for his audience, usually third - sixth graders.  "Extra Credit" brings worldly and timely subjects, conflict and cultural differences in the Middle East, front and center to grade-school readers. As part of a plan to make up for her failings in the sixth grade, Illinois native Abby must correspond with a foreign student, display their letters on a bulletin board and give an oral report on what she's learned through her pen pal relationship. Rock wall climbing is Abby’s No. 1 favorite thing to do, so she chooses to write to a student in the mountainous region of Afghanistan. 

As she begins her correspondence with an Afghani girl (and, unknowingly at first, her brother, Sadeed), Abby doesn’t put much thought into her letter, and how it will be perceived.  By contrast, how they are perceived and understood is uppermost in the minds of the Afghani children writing in English to America. When Abby receives her first reply by mail, she is amazed at how much effort went into the letter and accompanying drawings.  She becomes deeply invested in her letter-writing project, taking pride in how well she can communicate and share her story with her pen pal.  

Local Afghan custom forbids young boys and girls to communicate on a very personal level, in their community or between cultures. This custom forces the brother to keep his writings to Abby a secret from his community. The dangers are real for the foreign children. When a passing visitor sees Abby’s envelope, adorned with the American flag stamp, Sadeed’s life is threatened, and that threat echoes throughout their community. Many characters have to come to terms with whether to continue this communication, and whether or not it was a good idea in the first place. 

What will happen to Sadeed and his family?  Will Abby get into trouble over bringing religious symbols into the classroom?  Will she be able to communicate to her classmates just how much she has learned about her Afghan friends and their culture?   

Through Abby and Sadeed, Clements demonstrates that the more effort you put into something, the more you get out of it.  Abby most fully realizes this when she finally gives her oral report to her class. Her classmates are bored and disinterested primarily because they have not taken part in the personal exchange, which has made all the difference for Abby. 

Young American readers are introduced to the fact that other children around the world do not enjoy the same freedoms we do.  Yet, they also come to understand that children living under completely different circumstances still share the same basic feelings, hopes and dreams as American children. 

By the end of the novel, both Abby and Sadeed have broadened their perspectives on many things: how differences in climate, locale and politics complicate ordinary human relationships; how people are essentially the same, but react differently based on their circumstance; and how being completely honest opens more doors. Abby and Sadeed gain maturity and confidence. This is a great little novel to broaden your child’s world view and give them an example of how to connect well with others.

Find “Extra Credit” at your local library:


Your local, independent bookstores.  They trump the big box stores with best-selling author book events, personalized service and selection.

Read. [by G.R. DOODLEBUG]  www.readbooksellers.com

Rakestraw Books  http://rakestrawbooks.com

Bay Books  www.baybooks.us

Towne Center Books  http://townecenterbooks.com 


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